Lawmakers pass bills on paper ballots, transit, marijuana
By BEN NADLER and R.J. RICO
Mar. 01, 2018
ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia lawmakers passed dozens of bills Wednesday, rushing to meet a key deadline for the 40-day session.
Legislation had to pass at least one chamber by the day's end to remain alive for the year. There are ways around the deadline but lawmakers still try to get proposals through in time.
Here's a look at some of the day's top items:
Georgia is closer to adopting a voting system that leaves a paper trail.
The state Senate on Wednesday voted 50-1 in favor of a proposal that would replace electronic touch-screen voting with a paper-based system. It awaits House input.
Some lawmakers have pushed for paper ballots for years, arguing that paper ballots can't be electronically hacked and can be easily verified in the event of an audit.
According to the bill, the future Secretary of State should choose an "optical scanning voting system" by June 2019.
Depending on when the state sets aside the necessary funding for the new machines, the new system would have to be put in use either in 2020 or 2024.
The Georgia Senate has passed a bill that would establish a new regional transit authority called the ATL.
That authority would be responsible for overseeing transit expansion in the metro Atlanta region.
The measure, passed by a vote of 51-4 on Wednesday, mirrors a bill passed by the House earlier in the day, though substantial differences exist between the two.
Under both plans, existing public transportation providers in the Atlanta region — including MARTA — would maintain some operational autonomy, but the entire system would be rebranded ATL by 2023.
One main difference between the two bills is how each handles funding.
The House version calls for a statewide fee of 50 cents for all rides in a taxi or car-hailing service such as Uber, while the Senate bill does not include such a tax.
The Georgia House overwhelmingly advanced a proposal that would make Georgia the 16th state to make it illegal to hold a cellphone while driving.
The House voted 151-20 on Wednesday in favor of a bill that would fine drivers at least $300 for holding a phone behind the wheel. The measure awaits Senate input.
Distracted driving is largely responsible for a recent spike in fatal crashes in Georgia and the resulting rise in auto insurance premiums across the state, said Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta.
"It's convenience versus life and death," said Rep. Bill Hitchens, a Rincon Republican.
Law enforcement officers have said they often cannot tell whether a driver is texting or merely dialing, making it difficult for them to enforce the current anti-texting law.
Under the bill, drivers would still be allowed to use GPS navigation and talk via a hands-free device.
Victims of domestic violence would be able to end a lease without facing early-termination penalties under a proposal that has been approved by Georgia representatives.
The House voted 166-0 in favor of the bill Wednesday, sending the proposal to the Senate.
Victims of domestic violence who are trying to escape a dangerous environment should not also have to agonize about the fees they might have to pay to break their lease, said Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta.
Financial worries are frequently the reason that victims do not leave their abuser, Holcomb said.
Victims of childhood sexual abuse in Georgia could soon have more time to file lawsuits against their abusers under a proposal that has unanimously passed the House.
Republican Rep. Jason Spencer of Woodbine, who sponsored the measure, said science has shown that it can take decades for childhood victims to be able to confront their abusers.
Currently, the state's Hidden Predator Act gives victims until the age of 23 to file a lawsuit. Spencer's proposal seeks to expand the civil statute of limitations by 15 years, giving victims the ability to sue for damages until they turn 38.
The bill would also expand those who could be targeted in lawsuits to include organizations, businesses and churches that ignore or cover up reports of abuse.
Three years after Georgia legalized medical cannabis oil, state representatives have backed expanding the program to those who suffer from either post-traumatic stress disorder or from chronic, intractable pain.
The House on Wednesday voted 145-17 on Wednesday in favor of the proposal sponsored by Rep. David Clark, R-Buford.
Clark, who is an Army veteran, said allowing those suffering from PTSD to use cannabis oil makes it less likely that they will use highly addictive opioid painkillers.
The bill would have to pass the Senate before moving to the governor, who has signaled his approval of the limited program expansion.
There are currently about 3,500 Georgians who are legally allowed to have low-THC cannabis oil, although many have complained that it's difficult for them to get access to it, since it cannot be cultivated in the state.
Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, opposed the bill, arguing that too many people would begin using medical marijuana if it is expanded to include people with chronic pain.
The Georgia House has passed a measure that would require lobbyists working in the Capitol to abide by the same sexual harassment policy as lawmakers.
The proposal, passed unanimously on Wednesday, would require lobbyists to sign on to the General Assembly's sexual harassment policy as a condition of their registration. It also outlines sanctions the General Assembly could impose on lobbyists that violate the policy, including revocation of their credentials and fines.
Leaders of the Georgia House and Senate earlier this month adopted an expanded sexual harassment policy for the legislature.